Jack Frost nips at the corners of our living room's Surround-Vision Imax Windows. The "movie" is Winter, and will run for another four or five months. I've seen it before, know how it ends, so pardon me if I take leave in the middle.
We arrived home on the heels of a storm that left Lovely Ouray blanketed under 18 inches of snow... most of which is now neatly shoveled aside in order to make room for more.
Dawn breaks with the gift of alpenglow, a subtle and short-lived pink-on-snowcaps to celebrate the first day home. Embers that flicker and glow in the hearth warms my back, while I gaze through windows that frame postcards suitable for Christmas. I am reminded that its time to string lights...
|Remnants of a Super Moon as it sets over Zion|
I'm always struck by how enormous our little Mine Shack feels after spending a few months in Camp Goldie.
The annual transition from Zion's relative warmth to Lovely Ouray's cold is abrupt. Unperturbed, Bobbie layers up and heads out for a long walk in the snow. What's it been,12 hours? I'm not there yet. Besides, I just shoveled a dump truck sized load of white plague from the drive and deck, wearing sandals! Without saying a word, Bobbie makes a mockery out of my facade of toughness. "Have a good walk," I say, as I climb aboard the exercise bike's Seat from Hell. I punch in 90 minutes (groan), set resistance at 13 (ugh), and face the cowardly indoor version of self-flagellating my way up The Monkey.
I am absolutely—more-or-less—committed to living a four-season lifestyle, even if it kills me. Why? Because uniformity is boring. It takes a brutal winter to truly appreciate the apogee of joy summer brings. If it's true that absence grows a fonder heart, then doesn't it follow that it is autumn's brevity that breeds anticipation?
Oh sure, I'm known to whine about the cold. But deep within the gray matter between two frost-bitten ears, I realize that Colorado winters make summers sweeter. Without at least a "taste" of winter, I think I'd feel like "something" was missing. Yeah, I'm probably not the best candidate for a Hawaiian lifestyle :).
Now back to a few Canyon Reflections from this year's stay near Zion... starting with the "bad news."
This year we really felt the crush of tourism, from Springdale to Zion's main corridor. It was far more crowded than previous visits and, for me, made a negative "Park Experience."
Since the year 2000, Bobbie and I have spent many lovely autumns in Zion, most back in the good old pre-tram days. Now those people-movers run beyond capacity, leaving sightseers and sweaty hikers swaying nuts-to-butts in the isles and hanging on for dear life. Comparing Zion's "before" to "now" is probably not fair. I mean, what wasn't better in the "old days?" That said, our "Park Experience" in "the corridor" was more Disneyland than National Park. I could almost feel John Muir rolling over in his grave at the disparity between what he envisioned for our National Park System versus the reality of where it is now, and, more importantly, where it's headed.
If your goal is to get away from it all, find peace and quiet, Zion's "Corridor" is not a good choice anymore... especially on weekends and holidays. With exception to weekends, crowds and traffic used to taper off after the first week in November. This year, however, traffic continued to back up (as in "stalled") from Zion's gates to mid-Springdale. And parking? Ha! Forget about it.
This year the park's turnstiles are expected to push a half-million visits in November, which feels crowded. Imagine 3 to 4 million people a month during June, July, and August. (FYI, January is the least visited month).
So why do we keep going back?
Perhaps H. G. Wells said it best, nature's inexorable imperative is to adapt or perish. Over the years, as trails in Zion's "Main Corridor" became more and more thronged, our pleasure meter dropped to near zero. Even though it's still just as beautiful today as ever, too many people spoil the experience, if not the purpose.
We decided that it was time to either move on or "adapt." Study of a detailed map revealed vast areas to explore away from the "drive-by-ers" and day-hikers. Thus began remote off-trail explorations... backcountry canyons, slick rock, and slots galore. Since then, we (and a few gang members) continue to be amazed at all the new finds and glory that lies in wait off the beaten path in Zion.
Now, if you are one of those people that think Rangers at the visitor's center are going to hand over all the Park's secrets, I got a few watches you might be interested in. Forget that. The most fun to be had is often when you don't have a "plan" or a destination. This year we had a blast picking random canyons and going as far as possible. Dead end? No problem, just go to the next canyon, then the one after that, and so on. Trust me, you will never be able to explore all the canyons and grace Zion has to offer, and the best part is that it can still be done alone if you are willing to make the effort.
Here are a few samples of what's to be found beyond the well-trammeled paths... lonely random canyons that hold a high probability of wet feet, bloody shins, scrambles over choke-stones, and a little sole smearing on vertiginous slabs of rippled red sandstone.
|What happens when you misstep on the mountain...|
|A Mexican Spotted Owl... wonder if Trump will deport it???|
|"Smear" the mountain... Soul to Sole|
Bobbie, enjoying Zion's "solitary confinement."
I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least — and it is commonly more than that — sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements. Thoreau